THE ULUA - HAWAII'S TOP GAME FISH!
The ulua. If there was one, just one fish, to be classified as Hawaii's top game fish my vote would go immediately to this one.
These prized fighters are comprised of assorted members of the jack family that have attained weights of ten pounds or more and, without a doubt, are among Hawaii's most sought after fish by local folk both for their legendary fight as well as their table appeal.
Unlike the billfish, mahimahi, ahi, ono, and other pelagics that are pursued throughout the islands by boating anglers, the ulua are taken both from land as well as by boat. Even before reaching the ten pound threshold which place them in the ulua category, these reef fish roam the nearshore waters as papio and provide fishing excitement wherever they happen to be. Among the most common are the bluefin trevally (omilu), black trevally (black ulua), giant trevally (white ulua), African pompano (kagami ulua).
A fierce predator, the papio is often hooked by spinning or whipping with a fast retrieve using bait or lures. Often, when schools of baitfish such as oama or halalu are in the area it's not surprising to witness a papio or ulua rushing in to catch its prey often right up to the shore. Many anglers get surprised at how large a lure a six-inch papio will hit. And if they're so lucky, perhaps they'll also experience the thrill of a fifty-pound big boy hitting a plug with no weights or other rig components to hamper its fight!
A few of the lures I use for papio. Nothing beats live baiting with oama or some other small fish but, for me, that's a whole outing in itself which I seldom have time for!
Fishing for papio and ulua can be done employing any venue of fishing you prefer. Flyfishing enthusiasts (a relatively small group of anglers in the islands) have found papio to be among the best contenders to test their mettle in the shallow reef waters surrounding the islands just as those with light tackle have always known. And stalking the larger specimens of this prestigious family of fighters has attracted over the years thousands of hopefuls to Hawaii's beaches and rocky shores in hopes of hooking into one of the beasts!
The kagami-ulua, this one proudly displayed by kayak fisherman, Stu Seto, is a favorite due to its delicious meat enjoyed as sashimi (raw) or cooked!
Unlike their pelagic counterparts, the ulua are taken in waters shallow enough where they have access to the bottom. Their ability to run deep and into rock and coral formations makes fighting them even more difficult. Any one who has hooked into an ulua will attest to the brute strength possessed by these fish and knowing that their tendency to cut line on rocks makes fighting them even more exciting.
Ian Taylor displays his awesome white ulua landed from the shore on Midway Atoll and subsequently released.
So large do the ulua grow that there exists a hundred-pound club... those fortunates who've landed ulua weighing in at 100+ pounds! Many of these larger ulua have been taken off of rocky coasts where the jagged lava meets the ocean providing for a sudden and deep drop off where the ulua like to congregate. A special method of fishing, slide-baiting was developed by anglers pursuing the fish from these inhospitable shorelines. Slide-baiting employs a technique of setting one's line out then sliding baits down the main line throughout the fishing period, usually overnight.
Trolling with light tackle (a 7' Ugly Stick/Penn 4400ss and 10# test line) and nothing more than a lure, I landed an 11-pounder which turned out to be one of the most exciting experiences of my life! Although my catch was tiny in relation to what the hardcore fishermen are accustomed I couldn't have been more excited than I was that day.
For those of us who've discovered a love for kayak fishing, the papio and ulua are welcome catches with the larger fish being capable of towing the kayaks at a decent clip! After years of on-and-off shorecasting, I finally got my first ulua on my second outing kayak fishing.
Fortunately, there's a growing awareness of the fragility of Hawaii's fisheries and the papio and ulua are among those species being monitored and protected. A tag-and-release program operated by the State's Department of Aquatic Resources (DAR) has been very successful in monitoring the breeding, growth, and migratory patterns of the papio and ulua while developing an increasing catch-and-release mentality amongst local fishermen.
For any new fishing enthusiasts and visitors to the islands, the papio and ulua are two wonderful experiences that await you. Here's wishing you'll hook into one of these exciting fish soon.